Genre: NA Contemporary
Release date: August 14th 2016
Millie Alvarez is a college senior with dreams of being a best selling science fiction writer like her favorite author, sci-fi mastermind Luke Danielson. She fantasizes about dating Rod, her handsome, young writing professor, who has a fan base of his own.
Of course no one knows this but her two best friends, Fran and Mike. In the real world, Millie is anything but a success. She always gets casted in the worst roles in her college's musical productions, has a single subscriber to her writing blog, and struggles to be with anyone but Fran and Mike. She even avoids meeting Trent, an exchange student from London who matches with her on the dating app Charmed. Sam always wants to hang out with Millie, but he isn't her type; he's too skinny and happy and won't stop asking Millie about all her favorite things.
But things spiral out of Millie's control when Fran moves out of their dorm room to live with her sister and her estranged dad won't stop calling her to make amends. To top it all off, the pain inside of Millie's chest is worsening. Millie must decide if she's ready to face everything head on. Can she do it? Is she stronger than she thinks she is? All Millie knows is that her life is one big mess that she cannot seem to escape.
"five minutes" Sam had texted Millie. Ten minutes ago.
Millie arrived at the restaurant where Sam had suggested they meet called Il Formaggio. It was a really swanky pizza place with a bar, and everyone there were adults who were just drinking. A pizza place for adults. Millie felt more in place at a Chuck E. Cheese.
Suddenly, Millie felt too short and not pretty enough. And she had actually made an effort to look nice. She wore an above-the-knee floral print dress with black tights and grey suede flats. Fran let her borrow one of her old cardigans, one of the only ones that actually fit her.
She stood at the entrance for a few minutes, pretending to look at the desserts behind a glass display window. When the girl working the bakery asked Millie if she wanted to buy something, Millie smiled and shook her head. Then she went to the far corner of the entrance and retreated to a leather couch away from everyone else. Basically, you could eat pizza, get drunk, and then take a nap at this place.
Sam didn't see her when he first walked in. He looked around for her, his back facing Millie. He was wearing a collared long sleeve and faded black pants. An outfit she had seen him wear hundreds of times. She wished he'd worn something new for their date.
This isn't a real date, Millie reminded herself.
Just as Millie was about to get out of her chair, Sam whipped himself around and saw her. He flashed his superstar smile.
Millie was pleasantly surprised to see he was clean-shaven and his hair was parted and groomed to one side. Little tips of black strands at his hairline had been brushed back so they effortlessly curled up like a wave above his forehead. His hair and face were the smoothest she has ever seen them. He looked perfect. She was nothing like him.
Millie rose and walked over to him.
“Hey." Sam said it so smoothly that it made Millie feel safe, as if Sam—scrawny as he was—could protect her from anything.
Sam extended a friendly arm and wrapped Millie into a hug, holding her for a moment before letting go.
"Thanks for coming along, Sam."
"Sure thing." Sam made eye contact with the hostess and held up the number two with his fingers. "Thanks for coming to dinner."
"I'm not very hungry," Millie said.
"Neither am I."
"Only you two today?" The hostess asked. She had frizz-free hair and actually knew how to properly apply makeup. She made being hot look easy.
"Just us," Sam said.
The hostess gestured with her hand for them to follow her. She led them to a table for two, surrounded by two other occupied tables.
"Can we take that table instead?" Millie pointed to a desolate table set up against the wall.
The hostess furrowed her brows.
"Of course." Sam nodded, looking at Millie assuringly.
The hostess led them to Millie's anti-social table and set down two small pieces of paper—apparently the menu, but Millie didn't think so at first—one in front of both of them.
"Your waitress will be right with you," the hostess said and shuffled back to her post by the entrance.
The bus boy approached them with a fancy glass bottle of water and set it down in the middle of the table along with two small glasses. He pulled out two straws from his apron pocket.
"Thank you," Millie said.
"Thanks!" Sam smiled at the bus boy as he started to walk away, one upping Millie in the charm department. While it was a tiny bit annoying, it was also a relief that Millie could be herself. Sam had the courtesy covered.
Sam picked up the flimsy menu and glossed over it. "Sorry I'm not hungry," he said. "I've been eating all day. Had a movie marathon with Corey and Dustin."
"What did you watch?"
Sam leaned in like he was telling her a big secret. "Return of the Last Sensei."
"Oh god. Never get that close to me and say those words again."
"I take it you aren't a fan."
"I read a few chapters of the book adaptation of the movie."
"Not the same."
Millie observed the other patrons in silence.
Sam kept his head down at the menu, but studied Millie. "Are you going to order anything?" he asked.
"Maybe." Millie picked up her menu.
The waitress strolled over to them and Sam ordered a beer. She asked him for his driver's license and casually flirted with him in front of Millie. Not that Millie was jealous, but the waitress could have at least assumed they were on a date. But maybe she didn't think Sam would date Millie. Sam was really good looking. This waitress was clearly enthralled by his friendliness.
But as Millie continued to watch their exchange, she saw that Sam was behaving unlike himself. He was tense, and conversing apprehensively. She wondered if he liked her.
"Get whatever you want, Millie," Sam said, and Millie
"Never tell a girl that." The waitress winked at Sam. "She'll order the whole menu."
Millie ordered the least expensive pizza on the menu—tomato basil—and was relieved when the waitress finally left.
"That waitress was...weird." Sam looked at Millie and laughed. Millie stayed quiet.
Sam rested his elbow on the table and patted his hair, never taking his eyes off Millie. Millie sighed and scanned the room again.
"What are you thinking about?" Sam asked her.
Millie shot her eyes at him. "Nothing."
"Forgive me for asking," Sam said, stirring the water in his glass with his straw. "It's a conversation starter. I don't know anything about you. Except that you get off to deranged clowns chasing after you with chainsaws in Haunted Mazes."
"Ask me something real then."
Sam perked up in his seat and wiggled his fingers mischievously as he decided on a good question. He was acting like a kid who had been patiently waiting his turn forever. "Where did you grow up?"
Millie: "Echo Park."
Sam: "What was it like?"
Sam: "How many siblings do you have?"
Sam: "Are your parents still together?"
Sam: "This isn't fun when all you do is answer with one word."
Millie crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat. "You're not asking the right questions, then."
Sam took this as a challenge. He squinted his eyes, looking at Millie like he was trying to read her mind. "When did your parents get divorced?"
"They broke up when I was two." Millie shifted in her chair. "They were never married."
Sam: "Where does your mom live?"
Millie: "In the house we grew up in."
Sam: "And your dad?"
"He doesn't live here," Millie said, playing with her straw wrapper absentmindedly.
Sam: "Where does he live?"
Millie: "Far away."
Sam: "Is he dead?"
Millie shuddered. "Definitely not."
"Okay, I get it."
"What do you get?" Millie asked, slightly bothered. He was judging her again.
"I just get it." Sam shrugged and took a sip from his beer glass. At some point the bus boy had placed it on their table. "I get why you're avoiding questions about your dad."
"I'm not avoiding anything." Millie said. "I genuinely don't know where he lives. We don't speak. At least I don't speak to him."
"He tries to talk to you?" Sam clutched his glass.
"All the time," she said.
"You just hang up?" he asked. Millie could tell Sam pitied her from the way he was looking at her. It was irritating.
"I don't answer," Millie said. "My life is fine without him. He's messing it up by wiggling his way back into it."
"But your life could be better if you talk to him."
"He isn't any good."
Sam stayed silent for a moment, probably contemplating if he should continue this line of questioning. "Did he do something to you?" he asked hesitantly.
"No," Millie said.
"To your mom?"
Sam titled his head to the side. "So how's he not good?"
"He just isn't," Millie said. She touched her chest and started taking deep breaths.
"Are you okay?" Sam said. He was suddenly tense. He looked like he was ready to give her the Heimlich.
“I’m”—Millie took a deep breath—“Fine." She breathed again. She kept her hand on the middle of her chest. "I just get this pain in my chest when I talk about Walter--my dad. Or experience anything potentially life-altering.”
"That sounds like anxiety." Millie didn't say anything, so Sam continued. "Anxiety is a disorder controlled by fear, Millie. If you let the fear grow inside you, your anxiety will only get worse. I bet if you met Walter it would go away."
Millie rolled her eyes. She didn't want to talk about this with Sam. He wasn't a doctor, and he didn't need to know about her medical problems. She set her hands in her lap and acted like her chest wasn't tight anymore. "Do you have any more questions?" she asked.
Sam blew out a big breath of air, his lips flapping a little as he thought of something else he could ask. "What's your favorite color?" He broke into a crooked smirk, his eyes meeting Millie's slyly.
Millie huffed. "Yellow," she said.
"Now ask me a question." Sam waited patiently, eager to hear what Millie would spring on him.
Millie shrugged. "Where are you from?"
"What do your parents do?"
"My dad owns a home improvement store, and my mom's a Spanish teacher."
"Is that why you like to build things?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "I work there every summer. But I mostly install light fixtures."
Millie grew quiet, then said, "What's your favorite color?"
"That's a good one." Sam nodded, lifting his mouth to one side as he pondered on the question. "I'm not sure. Maybe..." Sam took a good look at Millie, almost like he was inhaling everything about her. "Brown."
"Why?" Millie gagged.
"What do you mean, ‘Why?’ I like it."
"Nobody likes brown." Millie said. "It's not a pretty color."
"Your eyes are brown, and they're really pretty."
Millie pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and looked away. "They're not that interesting," she said.
"It isn't the color that makes them pretty." Sam grinned. "It's how you use them."
“Oh, god." Millie covered her eyes with her palms. "What do I do with my eyes that are making you say things like that?"
"I refuse to tell."
"Why?" Millie said.
"If I do, you'll be too self-conscious about it and you won't do it anymore."
"They're my eyes and I deserve to know."
"You smile with them," Sam said.
Millie's face shriveled in disgust. "I don't smile with my eyes. I hate smiling. You like to smile."
"Yes, I do like to smile." Sam took a drink from his now half-empty glass. "I'm a normal person."
"I'm not a normal person," Millie said just as the bus boy brought her pizza to the table and set it in front of them.
"Definitely not." Sam tore off a slice and took a big bite. "It's your best quality."